The Southern Oregon football team heads into homecoming weekend in a brand new kind of situation since Charlie Hall became head coach.
The Raiders are coming off a loss.
With last Saturday’s trip to Montana ending in a 34-21 loss to Rocky Mountain, the Raiders’ lone home game in the month of October just took on that much more importance. SOU has seen its breathing room atop the Frontier Conference go by the wayside, as the No. 7-nationally ranked Raiders will look to get to their winning ways this afternoon against rival Eastern Oregon.
“I started the meeting on Monday saying that it’s been 700 days since Southern Oregon sat in a room on a Monday after a loss trying to get ready for a game, so it’s a little bit of uncharted territory for this group under my leadership,” Hall said. “To me, it’s one of those situations where we have to look back and see what we could have done better, but we want to look forward.
“I’m anxious to see how we respond to this and I think that’s a true test to our team, our character and who we are as a team. We’ll be tested this week and I want to see what the resolve of this team looks like.”
Of course, the only other loss SOU has had since Hall took over as head coach came in last season’s national semifinal.
Many of the players who were on the field then are still around now.
But when it comes to the challenges that this weekend brings, it’s not just the fact that the Raiders (4-1 overall, 4-1 Frontier) now have something other than a zero in the loss column.
There’s also the rather important detail that Eastern Oregon (3-2, 3-2), ranked 24th in this week’s NAIA coaches’ poll, has won its last two games and is a much-improved team from the one that Southern Oregon beat 32-13 in comeback fashion on opening day in La Grande.
“They have to do something different,” Hall said of EOU, which came away with the win the last time the two teams played in Ashland two years ago. “Whatever they tried to do, they’ll probably come up with something different. We had a winning recipe and a winning formula in the first game (this season), but things change. Personnel changes over the course of five weeks in a row. We’re trying to prepare ourselves and look beyond this last game and last year’s game to try and find whatever new things we could see from them. A lot of thought goes into that and it’s more difficult to prepare for it the second time around.”
For how well the Raiders were playing going into their bye week, it was essentially the opposite last Saturday in Billings.
Not only was SOU’s 21-point output a season-low total, but the Raiders’ usually-sound defense allowed 405 yards of total offense as Rocky Mountain was able to build a 20-point lead, 34-14, heading into the fourth quarter.
The Raiders’ ground game that had been so good the opening four games only recorded 21 net yards on 31 rushing attempts, their lowest total in nearly two years.
“It was somewhat of an anomaly,” Hall said. “Offensively, we struggled with protection — and that’s not necessarily a reflection of the offensive line. I think Wyatt (Hutchinson) held the ball, at times, a little longer than he should have so he had to run around and try to make some plays. Again, it’s not uncharacteristic in terms of how much we’ve been progressing from Week 1 to Week 4, but the run game was pretty much non-existent. It’s just one of those things where there’s still a little bit of we’re scratching our heads at some things.”
If the Raiders want to avoid losing back-to-back Frontier Conference games for the first time since 2012, the need for improvement is obvious.
And for a team that has momentum as one of its biggest themes of the 2018 season, getting the good times going again will be crucial on homecoming day.
“We’ve got to start with all the things we talk about in terms of generating momentum with a two-week road trip, trying to win back-to-back games — and we have to win the first one now, so we’re almost back to square one before we can build to the other milestones,” Hall said. “We really have to think about that aspect and really not look at the other things that aren’t going to matter — our location in the conference, our location nationally. It’s more about there being some serious reflection about who we are and how we respond to some adversity.”
Contact Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.